It’s like eating a cup of mulled wine
Charoset is a dish served during the Jewish holiday of Pesach or Passover. Passover takes place on the 15th of the month of Nisan on the lunar calendar, which typically falls around March or April on the Gregorian calendar.
The celebration takes place in the form of a long dinner, during which we recounted the story of Exodus when Moses led the Jewish slaves out of Egypt and into the promised land of Israel. If you’re Christian and you’ve read the New Testament, you might remember that Jesus celebrated the “Festival of Unleavened Bread” with his twelve disciples, during which he went all Twilight and told them to drink his blood and eat his flesh. That was a Passover dinner. Or you might have seen photos of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” where the twelve disciples are all on the verge of a TV talk-show cat fight and Jesus is sitting calmly in the center like Oprah. That’s a depiction of that very same Passover.
Anyway, during this religious dinner, we eat different dishes as we recount the story, with each item serving as a sort of gastronomic tool to remember the order of events. For example, we eat bitter herbs with salt water to remember the tears and bitterness of slavery. We eat eggs to represent the circle of life: both the death of those lost and the birth of those who survived. We eat matzah, a flatbread because God commanded the Jews to fast from all leavened bread in order to gain their freedom in the promised land (God can be so random). As for charoset, the story goes that we eat it to represent the mortar that the Jews used to build Egyptian palaces and whatnot when enslaved. Traditionally, you eat it between two “bricks” of matzah with some bitter horseradish (because, once again, slavery was a bitter time).
Yet some theorize, like Dr. David Arnow, that charoset comes from the tradition of symposia in Ancient Greece, when men gathered after a meal to debate, sing, converse, and drink wine served with chesnuts, honey cakes, and other sweets. Personally, I think this theory holds Manishevitz. As a paste of wine, nuts, honey, dried fruit, etc., charoset is a literal mashup of what would be served at these philosophical soirées. Furthermore, Passover is a time to celebrate being “free men”: we lean back on cushions and drink copious amounts of wine (a minimum of 4 glasses) from chalices, all while debating, asking questions, and singing songs into the early morning hours. Essentially, Passover is a symposium with less togas and more lactose intolerances.
This year, I once again celebrated Passover alone because I failed to stay awake long enough to video call my family in the States. But I made myself a family-sized portion of charoset that I’ve been spreading on matzah or shamelessly spooning out of the jar all week, and when Passover ends, I’m going to use the rest of it as a filling in a spicy, mulled-wine flavored pie.
In the USA, I usually make the classic Ashkenazi recipe for Charoset (apples, walnuts, Manischewitz wine), but in Italy, there are nuts that I like much more that cost much less. Last year, I went all out with chestnuts. This year, I went with roasted hazelnuts. While both contribute something wonderfully tender and earthy to the mix, the hazelnuts win the prize. So, without further ado, my Italian charoset recipe for this year’s Passover:
PREP: 5 minutes
COOK: 40 minutes
2 large apples and/or pears 1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts ½ cup chopped roasted almonds 1 ½ cups red wine Handful of dried figs (optional — also feel free to substitute whatever dried fruit you like best) Cinnamon (to taste) Nutmeg (to taste) Lemon and/or orange zest (to taste)
1. Dice all your ingredients and put them in a pot with the wine
2. Leave them to simmer on the stove for about 40 minutes
That’s it! When the mixture is thick and has absorbed most of the wine, you’ve made your charoset. If you want something smoother and more spreadable, go ahead and pop it in a food processor until you have a nice jam-like spread. Personally, I like a chunky charoset where you can taste the different ingredients, and each bite is slightly different.
As a nice added bonus, your house will smell amazing after you make this recipe. I promise you, the citrus and cinnamon leave an aroma that beats any fancy scented candle out there.